Don’t let the state subsidise local papers

Alan Rusbridger has suggested that the tax-payer ought to subsidise local newspapers. This is a very bad idea. Even my proposed National Media Trust should not do that.

It was lazy of me, but I first came across Mr Rusbridger’s proposal by noticing Roy Greenslade’s deep scepticism about it. Mr Greenslade is suspicious of the idea that the state should be paying for news on the scale involved.

I’m inclined to suppose that the issue is that Mr Rusbridger (like Ofcom) wants to save specific institutions (local papers, say). I think the point is to stress that one should:

(a) subsidise as little as possible (and only for market failure);
(b) get people to subscribe to subsidy (keep the state out of it);
(c) apply “subsidiarity”: subsidise producers not processes.

That would imply that one might argue for a subsidy to local journalists but not to local papers and from voluntary not state sources. The papers could take the subsidised material, or it could go on websites, or to radio stations, or whatever. Once the material exists, outlets are secondary.

That’s the point of the digital age.

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Publication date

24 January 2009